How do we combine faces and voices?

Milan, Italy, 9 March 2011 — Human social interactions are shaped by our ability to recognise people. Faces and voices are known to be some of the key features that enable us to identify individual people, and they are rich in information such as gender, age, and body size, that lead to a unique identity for a person. A large body of neuropsychological and neuroimaging research has already determined the various brain regions responsible for face recognition and voice recognition separately, but exactly how our brain goes about combining the two different types of information (visual and auditory) is still unknown. Now a new study, published in the March 2011 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452), has revealed the brain networks involved in this “cross-modal” person recognition.

A team of researchers in Belgium used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in 14 participants while they performed a task in which they recognised previously learned faces, voices, and voice-face associations. Dr Frédéric Joassin, Dr Salvatore Campanella, and colleagues compared the brain areas activated when recognising people using information from only their faces (visual areas), or only their voices (auditory areas), to those activated when using the combined information. They found that voice-face recognition activated specific “cross-modal” regions of the brain, located in areas known as the left angular gyrus and the right hippocampus. Further analysis also confirmed that the right hippocampus was connected to the separate visual and auditory areas of the brain.

Recognising a person from the combined information of their face and voice therefore relies not only on the same brain networks involved in using only visual or only auditory information, but also on brain regions associated with attention (left angular gyrus) and memory (hippocampus). According to the authors, the findings support a dynamic vision of cross-modal interactions in which the areas involved in processing both face and voice information are not simply the final stage of a hierarchical model, but rather, they may work in parallel and influence each other.

Notes to Editors:

The article is “Cross-modal interactions between human faces and voices involved in person recognition” by Frédéric Joassin, Mauro Pesenti, Pierre Maurage, Emilie Verreckt, Raymond Bruyer, Salvatore Campanella, and appears in Cortex, Volume 47, Issue 3 (March 2011), published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, newsroom@elsevier.com. To schedule an interview, contact Dr Salvatore Campanella, salvatore.campanella@chu-brugmann.be.

About Cortex
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: cortex@ed.ac.uk. Cortex is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier’s online solutions include SciVerse ScienceDirect, SciVerse Scopus, Reaxys, MD Consult and Nursing Consult, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite and MEDai’s Pinpoint Review, which help research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world-leading publisher and information provider, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

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